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Open Source Intelligence: FBIS, JPRS and the Evolution of Meaning

Posted on 02/08/2013

Nearly a quarter century ago, Glenda J. Pearson, University of Washington, wrote:

“The definition between government document and nongovernment document blurs, particularly as the intelligence tentacles of the United States government seek every shred of information, news, detail—and bring it home for contemplation, digestion and eventual redistribution.... 

“Prime examples of the ‘documentization’ of information are the United States Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) and its equally acquisitive partner, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)....Of interest here are the transforming effect these services have on the information they amass and the research and societal value that results.

“The significance of information collected by JPRS and FBIS is enormous. Of greatest importance is the diversity of viewpoints suddenly made accessible by subject and in English. To be able to understand these resources in relation to their special provenances is especially critical in appraising their informational value.
 “FBIS, for example, literally provides an ear to the rest of the world through the collection and translation of radio news and editorial broadcasts....

“JPRS provides equally important access to foreign newspapers, books, technical reports, and other printed materials. The significance may not end with the simple fact of convenient availability, but rather with the status accorded this information as newly created government documentation. That much of this material contradicts claims of the United States government (the very authority which, by virtue of its collection of these materials, gives them, in certain circumstances, greatly augmented validity) is an appropriate irony to be savored....

“Information acquires meaning when it can be used. The format of the material matters little; content should be the critical factor. Librarians have this opportunity to contribute to and participate in the evolution of meaning.”

The excerpt above appeared in Pearson’s article, “Government Publications on Microform: Integrated Reference Services,” published in Microform Review (December 1988). Today the contents of the microform collections that Pearson discusses are available in fully searchable digital editions from Readex. For more information about FBIS Daily Reports, 1941-1996 and/or JPRS Reports, 1957-1995, please contact

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